Sundown: Obama’s Jewish Brother

Plus Ponzi fatigue, mother tongues, and a strange souvenir


• Although President Barack Obama is not actually Jewish, it turns out his half-brother is; in a new novel, Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo presents a fictionalized account of his (and Barack’s) father’s abuse of his Jewish American mother, Ruth Nidesand. [WPost]
• The House of Representatives can have its official condemnation of the Goldstone Report—the Palestinian owner of the President Arafat souvenir shop in Gaza has found an entrepreneurial way to show his support: “Today we put out 50 keffiyehs made of white fabric with the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the name ‘Goldstone’ embroidered on them, to honour his work.” [AFP]
• The Forward explains that everywhere in the Diaspora, “prior to the late 19th century, Jews who put the Jewish dialects or languages that they spoke into writing did so in Hebrew characters.” [Forward]
• South Floridian Jews must be pretty fed up with the phrase “alleged Ponzi-schemer,” but they’re going to have to put up with it a bit longer; their local Chabad center is named for conman du jour Scott Rothstein, who once called himself the “Jewish Avenger.” [New Times]
• For those who can’t take it, there’s a new getaway option: Crystal Cruises is now offering tours to cities worldwide, including Dublin, Odessa, and Stockholm, that focus on their destinations’ Jewish heritage. [Reuters]

‘Forward’ Kills Comments on Klum-Nazi Blog Post

But won’t discuss why


When we wrote yesterday about the Forward’s Sisterhood blog musing on Heidi Klum’s German-ness and how close it is to Nazi-ness, we mentioned comments on the Forward site that both called the post racist and questioned the paper’s decision to publish it. Yesterday afternoon, those comments disappeared from the Forward site. Today, blogger Rebecca Honig Friedman offers a follow-up . “My point was not to attack Klum,” she writes, “but to acknowledge the associations that I, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, sometimes have—politically incorrect as they are—between ordinary Germans and Nazis…. After years of Holocaust education, if we can call it that, certain images and stereotypes have been so ingrained that I can’t help but think of them, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.” Fair enough, though Friedman fails to note that the disputatious comments were removed from her earlier entry. So we called her to ask why. Editors, not the writer, made that decision, Friedman said, “because they wanted to, I guess, keep the discussion a little bit on a certain plane of not attacking the writer. On the other hand I think that the comments section is a place for free speech as well. So I’m conflicted. But I would go to them for their rationale.” So we asked Gabrielle Birkner, a founding editor of the Sisterhood blog. She replied with an official statement: “We’re going to keep our own counsel on matters of editorial decision-making. We invite readers to post responses, in line with our usual commenting policy, in the comments section of Rebecca’s follow-up blog entry or to email us at” But what about the issue of censoring speech? The Forward editors would only repeat their statement.

About That Heidi Klum Post [Forward]
Earlier: Is Heidi Klum a Nazi ‘Project Runway’ Host?

Erekat: Two-State Plan Must Be Dropped

If Israel won’t stop settlement construction

Erekat signing his book, Life Is Negotiations, last year.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

Depending on whom Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been talking to in a series of Middle East meetings this week, she either thinks Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to limit but not stop West Bank settlement construction is an “unprecedented” offer that Palestinians should jump at, or completely insufficient. Now Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, is trying to lay down the law: he said at a press conference today that if “the Israelis believe they want to partition the West Bank with us” instead of giving it up, his government may have to drop the goal of a two-state solution altogether. P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas, he said, needs to “tell his people the truth, that with the continuation of settlement activities, the two-state solution is no longer an option.” But then what? Well, according to Erekat, the P.A. would have to move on to Plan B: “a one-state solution where Muslims, Christians, and Jews can live as equals.” Problem is, as Hussein Ibish, a fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, told Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg last week, everyone except a few utopianists knows that Plan B is way harder to achieve than Plan A. Which means Erekat may have just driven off a rhetorical cliff.

Palestinian State May Have to be Abandoned – Erekat [Reuters]

On Tablet Today

Remembering, creating, and moving on


Michael Z. Wize looks at Tobi Kahn, the first artist-in-residence at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Allison Hoffman reports from the polls in Deal, New Jersey, where the Syrian Jewish community seemed willing to look past the fact that gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie oversaw a corruption investigation against their chief rabbi. Seth Lipsky reflects on the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And more updates to come here on The Scroll.

N.J.’s Christie Wins in Deal, Too

Syrian Jews don’t hold a grudge


The Syrian Jewish community of Deal, New Jersey, may have been humiliated by the public-corruption investigated by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie—five prominent rabbis were arrested there over the summer, along with a dozens of politicians and government officials across the state—but voters there didn’t seem to hold a grudge in yesterday’s gubernatorial election. Christie, the Republican, defeated Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine by a margin of only 4 percentage points statewide. But in Deal, according to a preliminary vote tally provided by the local GOP chairman, Christie outpolled Corzine nearly two-to-one, 156 to 79. (Independent Chris Daggett got 8 votes there.) “People voted taxes,” said Patrick Burgdorf, Deal municipal chair for the Monmouth County Republican Committee. “They had short memories about Christie being with the [U.S Attorney’s] office.”

Comparing the Vote in the Governor’s Race [NYT]
Related: No New Deal [Tablet]

Former Puffy Protege Now Jewish-Ish

Rapper Shyne explains, sort of, on post-prison visit to Belize


The rapper Shyne, who was released from jail last month after serving more than eight years for his involvement in that big Puffy Combs-J.Lo-fleeing the scene back in 1999, was in his native Belize this week, where his dad is the prime minister, talking to students at a college he briefly attended in 1993. While he was in the big house, Shyne changed his legal name from Jamal Michael Barrow to Moses Michael Leviy in deference not exactly to a conversion, but, as he told listeners, to “a hereditary thing in my ancestry.” Vague as that is and with mentor Harvard University professor Charles Ogletree by his side, Shyne went on to elaborate on his decision. “I don’t want to be like Michael Jordan, I want to be like Moses or King David or King Solomon” he said. “Those are the guys that I aspire to be like. I didn’t want to be like the kingpin on my block, I want to be like the guy that part the seas.” Of course, the “guy” that parts the seas has a different name altogether—one we’re not really supposed to utter. But that’s picking nits, especially given the revelation that Shyne shared about the “the biggest king in the world,” aka King David. “You know we drive Lamborghinis and Ferraris and that’s what he did.” Royalty and rappers—they’re just like us!

Shyne Speaks [7 News Belize]

U.S. House Condemns Goldstone Report

And now the U.N. General Assembly will debate it

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The political football known as the Goldstone Report—the U.N. Human Rights Council-backed inquiry alleging that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during last winter’s Gaza war—is still in play. Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution (by a vote of 334-36) condemning the document and calling on the Obama Administration to block its movement through international bodies. The resolution was backed by AIPAC and the Orthodox Union but opposed, if weakly, by the new left-leaning Israel lobby J Street, which didn’t explicitly call on any of the 150 or so members of Congress who signed up to host the group’s big conference last week to vote no. (Indeed, the measure was sponsored by Democrat Howard Berman, who attended the J Street gala.)

Meanwhile, Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, called on Goldstone—who publicly expressed his irritation at the House resolution, which he claims distorts his report—to repudiate the whole investigation, not so much because the thing itself was flawed, but because its findings have had “an insidious effect on the safety and good name of the Jewish state.” Foxman went on to accuse Goldstone of naivete, for assuming that the world would give equal weight to his criticisms of Hamas, and not just pick up on his allegations about Israel’s wrongdoing; as far as we can tell, Goldstone has not responded.

This morning, the affair goes to the U.N. General Assembly, which is slated to debate a resolution urging the Security Council to consider referring both Israel and Hamas to the International Criminal Court if they do not conduct independent investigations into the claims lodged by Goldstone’s panel. Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour told the Associated Press he doesn’t expect a vote until tomorrow; we’ll stay tuned.

US House Condemns Goldstone Report [JPost]
Resolution Seeks Gaza War Crimes Investigations [AP]
Earlier: J Street in the Middle?

Daybreak: Israeli Operations, Official and Not

Plus another flu casualty, Clinton keeps clarifying, and more in the news


• The Israeli military seized an Iranian ship holding a hidden stock of arms intended for Hezbollah. [Haaretz]
• Meantime, in East Jerusalem, a group of Jewish settlers hired guards to help them forcibly evict a Palestinian family from a house on disputed land. [AP]
• In her continuing quest to clarify her statements about Israeli settlement growth, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States wants construction to stop “forever.” [AP]
• The House of Representatives has voted to officially condemn the Goldstone Report. [JTA]
• The Jewish education conference Limmud scheduled to take place this week in Ukraine has been canceled due to the swine flu epidemic there; 52 people have died of the virus. [JPost]

Sundown: Prison for Indulgent Gramps?

Plus kosher smartphones, a boastful zoo, and more


• In trying to negotiate a law penalizing adults who procure alcohol for minors, members of Israel’s Knesset got a little carried away, debating whether to sentence grandfathers to jail time for sharing a sip of Sabbath wine with the kids (we guess grandmothers are presumed less likely to corrupt minors). [JPost]
• In the illustrious tradition of attempting to make “kosher” versions of secular technology, Religious Zionist rabbis in Israel have signed a petition calling for “safe surfing” programs on phones that have internet access. [Ynet]
• Now that the cat’s out of the bag about a recent clandestine airlift of more than 60 Jews from Yemen to the United States, representatives of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Jewish Federations of North America are opening up about their roles in the rescue. [JTA]
• Israeli zoo Ramat Gan Safari claims to be the world’s biggest exporter of hippopotamuses thanks to its frisky specimens. Good on ya! [Times of London]

Jewish Girls Not Immune to Self-Destructive Behaviors

Reveals a new survey


In her last column on the Huffington Post, Leslie Goldman, author of Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image, and Re-Imagining the “Perfect” Body, made some pretty bold assertions: “To be Jewish is to have an eating disorder,” she wrote, adding that “Jewish women are the authority on this body image stuff.” This month, she presents the results of a Jewish Women International survey of 200 Jewish day school principals, camp directors, and the like on their experiences with girls and “self-destructive behaviors” including eating disorders, self-mutilation, and bullying.

Eating disorders ranked as the number one concern, followed by bullying (number one among girls aged 9-11), and JWI found that problems with substance abuse and risky sexual behavior rise precipitously when dealing with girls aged 12-15. While it’s unclear exactly whether the available data support the idea that Jews are somehow more at risk for specific behaviors because of cultural factors, as Goldman has asserted, it can’t hurt to have someone taking note that “Girls everywhere are suffering; we owe it to the younger generation to help undo the damage done by impossibly high academic standards, the media’s portrayal of unrealistic bodies and Photoshopped beauty, and the whirlwind of other factors which combine to make young women feel like they don’t measure up.”

Jewish Girls and Self-Destructive Behaviors: By The Numbers [HuffPo]

Is Heidi Klum a Nazi ‘Project Runway’ Host?

A ‘Forward’ blogger seems to think so


Tablet Magazine doesn’t often focus on Heidi Klum—she hasn’t renamed herself Miriam to join the celeb Kabbalah crew or made her position known on the prompt shuttering of Brighton Beach Memoirs. But a blogger at the Forward has overcome that problem, observing today that in Klum’s role as Project Runway host, she relishes announcing the fate of contestants who are “‘eliminated’ (eliminated!).” See, the Nazis eliminated people too, and they were German, just like Klum, so therefore there’s some sort of Nazi aura encircling Klum, and the blogger, Rebecca Honig Friedman, taking Jewish paranoia to ridiculously childish heights, has a hard time with that projected aura. In fact, confesses Friedman (whom we’ve met, and who seems a reasonable, nice gal), whenever Klum “announces to the panel of quaking designers, in her German accent, ‘One of you will be in, and one of you will be out,’ either my husband or I will mock, in our own fake German accents, ‘One of you will go to the right, and one of you will go to the left.’” (That joke has got to be stale by now—Project Runway is currently in its sixth season). Furthermore, Friedman notes, Klum doesn’t say “please” to the competitors—unlike the sultrier Padma Lakshmi on Top Chef, giving proof of her lack of compassion, obvs a Nazi trait. Sure, Friedman acknowledges she’s making a leap—but, hey, a leap never stopped a person from comparing supermodels to fascists, or from indulging in stereotypes, or from revealing how a sense of victimhood can color something as addictive and inane as a reality show.

We’ll leave the charges that Friedman’s post is racist to her commenters.

‘In or Out’: Why Heidi Klum Makes Me Nervous [Forward]

Nebbishy Doc Raps Swine-Flu Advice

‘DocRock’ and five prevention tips


Know you don’t want to get swine flu but occasionally forgetful of how best to prevent it? Who better to turn to for advice, then, than an bald, dorky, upper-middle-aged Jewish doctor who awkwardly raps about safety tips? Ladies and gentlemen, we present, courtesy of YouTube, Dr. Mache Seibel’s hip-hop “Five Tips to Avoid H1N1 Flu.” Go watch it. You’ll thank us. (Also: Wash your hands.)

DocRock []

Claude Levi-Strauss Dies

French-Jewish founder of structuralism was 100

Levi-Strauss in 2005(Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Image)

The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss died this weekend at 100, the office of the president of Paris’s School for the Advanced Studies in Social Sciences announced today. Levi-Strauss pioneered the structuralist approach to anthropology, which holds that myths, involving deeply rooted patterns of language and symbolism, are the building blocks of culture. His ideas, influenced by years field work with Native American and Amazonian tribes, in turn influenced philosophers including Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

Levi-Strauss grew up in an assimilated Jewish family in Paris. He fought in the French army at the start of World War II and fled to New York when the Nazis marched into Paris. One of his first works, Race and History, published in 1952, suggests how his wartime experience and his anthropological insights came together: the UNESCO-sponsored project “made the case that fighting the notion that some races are inferior to others also means combating the concept that some societies are culturally superior to others,” as the Forward wrote last year on the occasion of his works being republished in the Gallimard Bibliotheque de la Pleiade series. After returning from New York in the 1950s, Levi-Strauss lived out his life in Paris, where he was a prominent member of the elite Academie Francaise.

Claude Levi-Strauss, Scientist Who Saw Human Doom, Dies at 100 [Bloomberg]
Claude of the Jungle [Forward]

Russian-Israeli Spy-Turned-Tycoon Assassinated

Shabtai Kalmanovich spied for KGB, brought Michael Jackson to Russia, collected Judaica

Kalmanovich hugging a basketball coach for his team in April.(Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty Images)

Shabtai Kalmanovich—a Lithuanian Jew who emigrated to Israel in the 1970s, was convicted of having infiltrated Golda Meir’s government as a spy for the KGB in the 1980s, returned to Russia, where he became a construction tycoon and brought Michael Jackson to Moscow, in the 1990s, invested millions in European women’s basketball in the 2000s, and accumulated Russia’s largest collection of Judaica along the way—has been, shockingly, shot to death by unidentified gunmen while in being driven in his black Mercedes in central Moscow. The crime is suspected to be an act of revenge by business rivals. “This is all simply horrible,” said Adolf Shayevich, Russia’s chief rabbi. “In the center of Moscow! Such things now happen all the time and the culprits are never found.”

Russian Tycoon Fatally Shot in Moscow [LAT]
Ex-Shin Bet, KGB Double Agent Shot Dead in Moscow [Haaretz]
Former Israeli Double Agent Shot Dead Near Putin’s Office [Telegraph]

Jews Crush Muslims in Nobel Tally

‘Jerusalem Post’ op-ed theorizes on why

(Deshakalyan Chowdhury/AFP/Getty Images)

In an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post today, Uriya Shavit tackles a touchy subject:

While Jews, who are only around 0.2 percent of the world population, have won a quarter of all Nobel Prizes awarded in the sciences, Muslims, who are one quarter of the world population, have won only a handful, even by the most generous accounts. And while relative to its size, Israel’s tiny academia has been the world’s leading Nobel power over the past decade, Arab universities have yet to produce their first Nobel laureate.

Shavit challenges what he calls a “conventional explanation” for the imbalance—“Jewish genius,” itself a controversial conception—asserting that this x-factor can be broken down into a combination of Jews’ traditional commitment to education, and their concentration in “modern” societies that foster openness to the “greater world” and scientific exploration. “Remove one part of this equation—heritage or modernity—and the ‘Jewish genius’ vanishes,” says Shavit. In fact, he fears that as secular Jews move farther from their heritage and observant Jews becoming increasingly cloistered, the well of Nobel Prize-winning Jews will dry up.

As for Muslims, Shavit blames “a monopoly of the spiritual and the metaphysical” over the rational and scientific in many Arab nations. “Science can only flourish in a culture that does not recognize any taboos and constantly doubts creeds of all sorts,” he says. Meanwhile, “Contemporary leading Arab universities produce books and essays that depict Darwin, Freud, Marx and other brilliant modern minds as part of a Jewish conspiracy to bring about the downfall of humanity.” As a result of this intellectual isolation, he suggests, “the first Muslim affiliated with a Middle Eastern university to win a Nobel Prize will be an Arab-Israeli.”

Muslims, Jews and the Nobel Prize [JPost]

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